Living with Courage and Hope in a Pandemic

“Afraid of the other Person”  

Opening Reflection                                          

How can I serve the Lord? I do not know what to do. I do not have the fancy words that would bring comfort to the hearts of people who are troubled. I cannot even solve my own problems. You ask me to reach out and take your hand, O Jesus, but I fear that I may fall and falter. Hold my hand, precious Lord. Hold my hand.

A Reading from Scripture

Psalm 27:1 and 14 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! 

Luke 10:25-27 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This week, we will continue to look at Living with Courage and Hope in a Pandemic. We will explore the common worries and fears that we are experiencing. Scripture continues to offer a faith that promises again and again that we can live, in troubling times, with courage and hope.

Two weeks ago, we looked at anxiety in the face of Covid-19. Scripture has a lot to say about anxiety. The most often repeated refrain in Scripture is found on the lips of God, or an angel, or Jesus over 100 times. God says to his people, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” During some very troubling times for Ann and I and our anxiety level was very high: we repeated Jeremiah 29:11-12 — 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. The common theme in these verses is trust. Trust that God has all of this in God’s control. Trust that God is in control, trust that God will protect, provide, supply, so we can relax, have peace and wait on God. We do trust!

This week we will look at the simple statement – I am afraid of people who are not like me! I am afraid of the other person.

As humans we tend to fear those who are different from ourselves. Those differences include race, ethnicity, differences in socio-economic status, politics, religion, a person’s sexual orientation and so many more. These differences in people can make us quite uncomfortable, and that discomfort is fueled by our imagination, our perception of the world, our culture and upbringing, the media, religious leaders and politicians, can lead us to be afraid.    

In the early 1920s, Baltimore City passed many laws limiting where Blacks and Whites could live. There were specific streets and neighborhoods where Blacks could not live.

Growing up in Baltimore City back in the 1940s and 1950s. It was called “red-lining.” Somewhere I learned that White kids should be afraid of driving to downtown Baltimore—especially to North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. The impression I got was that I could be physically hurt, even robbed, as there were a lot of Black people living downtown who would want to hurt me. As time passed, I also learned that the Black folks in Baltimore did not want to come to where I lived because they felt the same – they would be attacked by the Whites. Fear of the other person who is different from you!

Fear is a common human trait and is driven by our perceptions and experience.

In what way does fear of the other shape us today? Fear is an equal opportunity problem — fear bounds all humans together. Racism has been a huge issue in the last few years, and it continues. But so is religion—we have a hard time differentiating between Islamic terrorists and Islam. There are just enough cases of violence in the name of Islam, played over and over again by the media, that we find ourselves truly scared of Muslims, or people who look like Muslims. 

Take your pick of others we’re afraid of—gays? Mexicans? Liberals? Conservatives? Libertarians? Atheists, Jews – and the list goes on and on. Today it is easy to hear that a lot of people are afraid of conservatives and others are afraid of liberals and clearly, we tend not to listen to each other and to dismiss their views. We do not take the time to begin to understand what separates us. It is our fears that today’s politics plays into.

Let us return to our Scriptures. I love what we read in Psalm 27, written by David, a song about where he turned when he was afraid of his real enemies who sought to destroy him. Let’s read just the first and last lines of this Psalm: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?…Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!    

Here is another very familiar New Testament Scripture that helps to answer the question about our fear of the other person. In Luke chapter 10, a man asks Jesus what he has to do to obtain eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him he must love his neighbor. On the surface, the man seems to genuinely want to discern whether he is fulfilling this requirement. Thus, he asks Jesus who he should consider to be his neighbor. The lawyer now asks a second question, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Who does God require us to love as ourselves and who not? Or, more specifically, what is the outer limit of the people we must treat as neighbors?

Jesus begins the story that we know so well – the story of the Good Samaritan. Two religious leaders pass by a “certain man” who had been beaten and robbed on the road to Jericho. It was the despised Samaritan who later came upon the scene took compassion on the beaten man and stopped and helped him. Jesus emphasizes that the Samaritan man understood who neighbor was and provided help. While the priest and the Levite had only considered their obligation to the Mosaic law, the Samaritan had only considered that there was a human being in need, and he had compassion on him regardless of whichever group the man belonged.

We live in a world of walls –There are linguistic barriers, political barriers, cultural barriers, educational barriers, race and gender barriers. One lesson that screams at us from Jesus’ is the story of the Good Samaritan. Barriers of hate and fear were broken down. In response to all of these barriers, Jesus simply says to love. Love converts enemies into friends. Often when we love, we find as the Scripture says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”… 

So, In these contentious times of pandemic with fear of Republicans or fear of Democrats or fear of the police or Blacks—  be purposeful in getting to know another person. This will help to ease your fears.

Thanks be to God